In building and construction, it is commonly agreed that work should only be performed by those who are appropriately qualified to do the job.
Yet in many cases, owners of homes and investment properties may not be builders by occupation – and therefore not qualified builders – but still may enjoy a small amount of handyman and construction work on properties they own, and may prefer to perform some relatively straightforward tasks themselves rather than hiring a builder.
Then, there are cases of those who again are not builders by trade but who enjoy doing some relatively small-scale construction or renovation work for some part-time income.
The question is, where should the line be drawn? How much work should these ‘backyard builders’ be able to do?
Such questions were recently considered in Tasmania, where both the government and the opposition decided to retain a maximum threshold of $5,000 on any one job for non-qualified backyard builders.
Housing Industry Association Executive Director Stuart Clues supports the government’s decision, saying the current threshold rate is accepted throughout the industry as being sufficiently low so as not to expose consumers to excessive damage even if the project does go pear-shaped.
Clues says that aside from obvious risks to public safety – not to mention the safety of building occupants and the builders themselves – engaging unqualified builders entails significant financial risk to consumers if things go wrong. This is an especially pertinent consideration given the risk of collateral damage to the entire building if shoddy work is performed on one part of the house.
Accredited builders, Clues points out, are held accountable for their work by the state’s Housing Indemnity Act and by Workplace Standards Tasmania (WST), and may lose their right to accreditation in the event of any professional misconduct.
With backyard builders, by contrast, consumers have no form of recourse for shoddy work under the Building Act.
Furthermore, while a few thousand dollars is a lot of money to most people, claims for these types of amounts are not worth pursuing through the courts because of the legal costs involved.
“So the consumer is left out in the cold with no recourse,” Clues says.
Clues says the state needs a professional construction industry whereby the public can have confidence in those who hold Builders Accreditation, who in turn should have the appropriate apprenticeship, skills, qualifications, insurance and experience and should be held accountable for their work.
Any increase in the threshold, he says, would have increased the opportunity ‘for backyard builders to flourish.’
As for owner builders, Clues says they can still build their home under current rules as long as they are registered as an Owner Builder.
“The reason the threshold amount is set at $5,000 is that it is sufficiently low as to enable small renovation work to be done but not so high as to see the public put at risk from unqualified persons performing high value building work beyond their competence,” he says. “The effect of increasing the threshold amount from $5,000 is to introduce a free unregulated environment for renovations and extensions where it is purely ‘buyer beware’ and consumers and the public have no effective protection.”